If someone you care about has ADHD, you might have noticed her acting in certain ways that upset you, other people, or even herself. Her actions could be linked to ADHD. Not every adult with ADHD has risky behavior, but many do.
Why? Research shows that people with ADHD often have lower levels of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is one of those.
For adults with ADHD, the standard treatment is medication. But experts say that ADHD therapy -- and other psychosocial treatments -- can play a key role alongside drugs.
“I think for many adults with ADHD, therapy is essential,” says David W. Goodman MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
While ADHD medicines are effective, they may not be enough. To use a phrase popular among ADHD specialists, pills don’t build skills. Even with medication, a...
“Risky behaviors can increase dopamine levels, which may be part of the reason some individuals with ADHD are drawn to them,” says Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, a mental health counselor and author of Adult ADD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Taking risks can give them a little rush of that dopamine that they are missing.
People with ADHD may also have certain genetic traits that make them prone to risky or impulsive actions.
For some people with ADHD, problems may be as minor as showing up late to meetings. Others may do things that are dangerous, like driving at unsafe speeds or abusing alcohol. Understanding the connection between ADHD and risky behavior can help you and your loved one with ADHD.
Common ADHD-Related Problems
Some of the difficult or risky behaviors related to ADHD include:
Trouble getting motivated or finishing tasks (either at work or at home)
Being late or not following through on commitments, appointments, or responsibilities
Substance abuse (ADHD makes you up to six times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.)
Risky sexual behaviors, such as having unprotected sex
Other things can also play a role in whether someone with ADHD acts in risky or dangerous ways. Family environment, the friends she spends time with, and health problems like depression or a head injury can make a difference.
How to Help
If someone you know has ADHD and is acting in ways that concern you, there are things you can do to help.
Don’t place blame. “The most important thing to remember is that ADHD is a biological, neurological, and genetic disorder. It’s real, and it can have real consequences for the people who have it,” Sarkis says.